Report of current court proceedings in OPL 245 criminal case against Shell and ENI

It appears, according to court documents, at the request of ‘Royal Dutch Shell plc’ and four suspected former Shell employees who are mentioned by name and by name in the Italian summons. These are two former British secret agents, hired by Shell as oil men whose main task was to make the inscrutable Nigerian policy more transparent. And two senior Shell managers: former board member Malcolm Brinded and former Africa director Peter Robinson. The foursome is said to have been closely involved in preparing the bribes payments…: “He is a former head of the British secret service MI6, but really no more than a junior employee at Shell in Nigeria.

…in the Netherlands, the FIOD invaded the head office in 2016 and a criminal case for corruption seems imminent. 

Translation of an article published today by the Dutch broadcaster NRC Handelsblad.

“By Nigerian standards, this was a great oil deal”

Shell lawsuit: After months of waiting, Shell took the floor on Tuesday in the court case about possible bribery at the unexplored Nigerian oil field OPL245.

By Merijn Rengers, Carola Wood Room, June 4, 2019

Room 7, where the largest corruption case in Dutch company history is fought, is bursting at the seams. It is warm and noisy and the available seats are already set aside early in the morning for at least 25 Italian lawyers, their crowd of assistants and prosecutors. The other listeners – Shell representatives, activists, interested parties – are forced to sit and sit in the back, or cage in two paying cells on either side of the courtroom where normally detained suspects await their verdict.

The colossal Palazzo di Giustizia in Milan, an example of fascist architecture, is a fitting backdrop to the mega-business in which Shell and the Italian oil company Eni have been involved for months. The hall, the corridors, the stairwells, the many courtrooms: everything is large and inscrutable.

The same applies to the corruption case. For the supposed bribe amount – hundreds of millions of euros. For the unexplored oil field off the Nigerian coast that it’s all about – OPL245, which would account for an estimated total of more than 9 billion barrels of oil. And for the stature of the Italian lawyers involved – one of the lawyers in the case is a former Italian Minister of Justice, while prosecutor Fabio fame the Pasquale as the public prosecutor who was convicted of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi for tax evasion.

In court Not only in Milan

Due to the possible bribe payments in Nigeria, four lawsuits are currently pending against Shell – three criminal cases and one civil proceeding.

Shell, Eni and various (former) employees are on trial in Milan for bribes. There is also a criminal investigation into Shell in the Netherlands for the same case.

In Nigeria, criminal proceedings have been ongoing for a number of years against a number of possibly bribed (former) politicians and various Shell and Eni employees. Nigerian subsidiaries of both oil companies have also been designated as suspects.

Since the end of 2018, a civil case has been running in London against Eni, Shell and various top executives. The Nigerian government is claiming more than 1 billion dollars in damage and wants the exploration rights back.

One of the big names was missing one in recent months: Shell itself. The group has so far been on the plain in the media and in the courtroom in Milan. As if the lawsuit is not about a master plan devised in The Hague, in which Shell and Eni played the Nigerian policy with astronomical amounts – bribes, according to the prosecutors. As if we are looking at an industrial accident, an oil deal that went wrong in which the Italians of Eni Nigerians tucked money and Shell was accidentally involved.

It is Shell’s turn

This is partly due to the rhythm of the lawsuit. In recent months, the focus in Milan has been on the Italian side of the matter and experts have been heard acting on behalf of Eni. But from this Tuesday it is also Shell’s turn. That starts with the hearing of four experts who, at the invitation of Shell, speak in the Milan court, diagonally under a huge fresco by Lady Justice. From the end of June the suspects are also interrogated – at least if they show up, which is not mandatory in Italy.

The first expert of the Dutch / British camp is the Nigerian lawyer Funke Adekoya. It appears, according to court documents, at the request of ‘Royal Dutch Shell plc’ and four suspected former Shell employees who are mentioned by name and by name in the Italian summons. These are two former British secret agents, hired by Shell as oil men whose main task was to make the inscrutable Nigerian policy more transparent. And two senior Shell managers: former board member Malcolm Brinded and former Africa director Peter Robinson. The foursome is said to have been closely involved in preparing the bribes payments, according to suspicion.

But Adekoya shines a different light in Milan on the possible misconduct of Shell and the foursome. She explains in court that the contract that it is all about, a voluminous settlement document from 2011, can withstand the test of criticism. That this controversial settlement to Nigerian standards was an excellent oil deal. And not the ingenious bribery contract that the Italian prosecutors hold. There is “nothing illegal about it,” Adekoya emphasizes in English, after which this comment is translated into Italian by the interpreter next to her.

In the settlement document, Shell, Eni, the Nigerian government and a number of Nigerian (former) politicians settled in one fell swoop all legal and financial problems that had arisen in the previous decade around the OPL245 field. The costs for the oil companies: 1.2 billion euros. This amount was later divided into large and small portions among a large number of Nigerian politicians, officials and intermediaries. The proceeds for Shell and Eni: the right to be allowed to pump the field into extremely long-term conditions.

For six hours, prosecutors question De Pasquale and Italian Shell lawyers Adekoya. At the end of the session it appears that she does not have an adequate answer to all questions. But she continues to spread her main message. The 2011 contract is ‘fully transparent’, ‘in accordance with Nigerian law’ and, moreover, easy to explain, because it offered a solution to the dozens of problems that arose around the oil field eight years ago.

She also has bad news for the Nigerian parliament. That is trying to break open the unfavorable oil contract and get compensation from Shell and Eni, through procedures and investigations in Nigeria and in London. But a recent lawsuit by Shell in Nigeria had the result that the parliament has no authority at all to start an investigation into corruption when awarding the field, she says.

And so the contours of the defense strategy become visible in Milan: payments and contracts in Nigeria must be seen in the local context. In addition, Shell says in a written response: “Based on the Milan file, we do not believe there is any reason to condemn Shell or its former employees.” happened without knowledge, permission or assignment ”from Shell.

Nevertheless, the room for manoeuvre for the company is small: in the Netherlands, the FIOD invaded the head office in 2016 and a criminal case for corruption seems imminent.

Instructions from the head office

In the courtroom, the seriousness of the case gradually sinks away. A few people nodded, most lawyers study their cell phones. The interrogation lasted long enough, the judge concludes in the course of the afternoon. The next expert on the list, a British professor of energy law who once taught in Leiden and waits for his turn at the back of the room, is postponed to next week.

The man will then declare, among other things, that it is not surprising that Shell hardly had to pay taxes in Nigeria, after it had concluded a deal with the then rulers. And that things just go that way, in politically unstable and oil-rich countries.

Then room 7 flows empty. The dozens of lawyers and their assistants are still tangling together in the hall of the court. They will be there again next week, just like the weeks thereafter. The four Shell lawyers discuss the session on a granite bench. They are not allowed to answer questions from journalists, they say. Instructions from the head office.

This does not apply to the British lawyer Simon Airey, who assists one of the former secret agents who was employed by Shell. My client, he says, has been dragged along. “He is a former head of the British secret service MI6, but really no more than a junior employee at Shell in Nigeria. They just called him in the file because that is such a beautiful detail and fits so well in their story. ”

Afterwards in the sandwich shop next to the court, prosecutor Di Pasquale looks visibly satisfied with the fact that he has managed to call into question the expertise of the Nigerian Shell expert. It is a huge and complex file, he says. “There is hardly any news about this corruption case in Italy, the interests are that great. See who pays the big ads in the newspapers. But that is all part of the game. ”

“Let’s hope it will be all right,” he says, laughing, and then he walks out of the sandwich shop with his fingers crossed.

A version of this article appeared in NRC Handelsblad of 5 June 2019

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